It is the position of the Lārhūs Fyrnsida that private polytheistic worship provides the underlying foundation for a stable religious practice. In historic cases public offerings, temples, and the majority of certain antique civil religions was predicated on proper forms from – and the establishment of – domestic practice, simply on a wider scale. The establishment of hearth cult is thus considered to be the most important exercise the individual Heathen can take religiously. By establishing the household – the hearth – and taking care of one’s familial deities and performing the role of familial intercessor, the basis is laid for a greater branching into a community-oriented perspective.
The house is considered a true religious microcosm. It historically combined both the actual religious world with the physical edifice of the building, and incorporated the ideas of familial cult and well-being. Considered imago mundi, the house is an image of the cosmos and hearth cult is the natural continuation of one of the most archaic of religious practices. Because of the sacred nature of the household enclosure representing all that as important in the day-to-day functioning of a healthy religious life, the importance of the home was maintained even into later periods. The individual home, with the head of the household as the de facto priest, was capable of directly engaging with divinity.
What follows is the basic practical introduction for interested parties to establish their own household practice as Þingere, or the familial priest. The ritual is thus placed within the context of the tradition of Fyrnsidu that the Lārhūs Fyrnsida espouses.
The tradition of household practice holds that the domicile is a sacred enclosure, but there is nevertheless sites which are specifically given over to the proper veneration of household deities and divine ancestors. This place is the Wīgbed, and constitutes the equivalent of the altar of the family.
Perhaps the easiest way to setup a wīgbed is reserving a small table, cabinet, or shelf mounted on to the wall. The form and size of it is up to the individual’s consideration and logistical requirements. In other polytheistic traditions, this sacred place was most often located near to the hearth, kitchen, or central fire place, although modern environs make this less than necessary.
The location of the altar should be made with the following considerations, when possible:
- It is not established so far out of the way that it can be forgotten. It is the spiritual center of the home and should be treated as such.
- It is not located in so obtrusive a way that it becomes jostled or knocked around throughout the day-to-day functioning of the home. This space is effectively given over to the household gods, and represents their space within your home.
- Liminal spaces, such as corners, should be considered, as ritual is an act which occurs liminally “between” our realm and the divine reality of the Gods. An easterly wall could also be considered.
Certain pieces of furniture naturally consist of defined borders that isolate them from other parts of the house. Tables, shelves, and cabinets (with or without doors) all consist of this characteristic. What these do is define space, and creates the conditions of a delineated separateness which is conducive for the manifestation of the numinous. It also cannot be understated that this space is most importantly given over to the gods and should not be used to store or maintain other goods or profane objects which are not intended for ritual. It should be kept clean, and orderly.
The practice of home worship within the hearth can be as complex, or as simple, as the household wishes it to be. No two families will maintain the exact same formula for their familial practices, and new considerations will develop over time. This includes the various tools which are used within the hearth cult on the wīgbed.
However, the basic tools of the heathen hearth cult should be considered as follows:
Clǣnsungfȳr (Cleansing Flame): Many modern houses and apartments are not equipped with a functional hearth. Indo-European religions are traditions centered around the sacred flame of the hearth fire, and home altars would likewise have been located nearby. The centrality of this sacred flame was used as a focus of worship until the later introduction of icons and statuary representing the divine.
Instead, a sacred lamp, votive or taper candles, or other sources of flame provide the alternatives to the requirement of the sacred flame. They should be lit on the wīgbed during ritual. Not only does it provide the representation of the traditional sacred flame, but it is also useful in the establishment of sacred space through circumambulation, reenacting the sacred cosmogony to delineate the space of the other for ritual.
Offrungdisc (Offering Dish): A small dish or shallow bowl that is used as the receptacle to store offered food and drink and other offerings. This enables the family to share offerings directly from meals to the ancestors and the gods.
Rēcelsfæt (Incense Burner): Though the most common (and easiest to use) forms of incense (rēcels) are sticks and cones, traditionally powdered or resin incense was thrown upon hot coals in order to offer the fragrant smoke to the gods. Utilize that which is appropriate for the space.
These items constitute the bare minimum of material which are required for enacting cult ritual in the hearth. The individual is free to add iconography (representations of the house gods, or pictures of ancestors), votives, and whichever personal cultic items are of importance to the functioning of the home, as they require it.
From here, we will establish the constituent, ritual elements which make up the hearth offering in toto. Both expanded rituals and shorter daily rites will be considered.
The Ritual Format
A basic ritual maintains the following steps, derived from comparative sources since traditional Germanic rituals of a private nature are lost to us.
A note on body posture: The Lārhūs Fyrnsida embraces the historically attested antecedents that the Germanic peoples performed genuflection during their rites as a measure of showing their piety. It is encouraged to kneel when addressing the divine, although not if this places the wīgbed out of practical reach
A note on head covering: It is common in some polytheistic practices to cover one’s head as a sign of respect, although it is unsure whether the Germanic peoples attested to doing this were simply mimicking other traditions. It is up to the Þingere to decide that which is proper for his/her hearth.
Clǣnsung (Purification): Prior to communion, the Þingere should perform a rite of purification on themselves and any ritual participants to remove mundane pollutants. This cleansing can be as simple or involved as the Þingere deems necessary. A simple washing of the hands and face may suffice in some circumstances, whereas a full bath, replete with prayers of purification may be necessary in others. In Fyrnsidu, water plays a key role in liminality and as such is an ideal tool for dispensing with the accumulated pollutants of the profane.
Hālgung (Hallowing): Once the Þingere is free of pollutants, the ritual hallowing of the wīgbed can be performed. Traditionally, demarcation of sacred space was achieved through sunwise circumambulation with fire. In an indoor setting, this method can be replicated through the use of candles being moved in a circular motion over the wīgbed. As ritual reenacts cosmogony, this circular movement should in some way be tied to this scheme.
For instance, the Þingere might opt to perform 7 rotations, simulating the creation of the 7 worlds, as expressed in the Nine Herbs Charm. Multiples of 3 also play an important role in Germanic cosmology, as in the later Æcerbot. Either of these might be employed as a guideline to determine the number of rotations suitable for one’s respective hearth practice.
Forespræc (Preface): Once ritual purification and demarcation of space has been completed, the Þingere may now address the deities who are invited to witness the sacrifice. The steps are as follows:
- The Þingere petitions Wada-Þerscold, or another suitable gateway deity of his/her choosing to allow divine communion to occur.
- Rēcels (Incense) is offered to Wada-Þerscold alongside prayers and further supplications.
- Petitions are made to Frīg-Heorþmodor, or another suitable hearth deity to deliver the offerings to the ritual’s intended recipients.
- Frīg-Heorþmodor is then given prayer and offering (further rēcels might be lit, libation poured, grain burned etc.) as thanks for her role in the rite.
Hālsung (Supplication): The hālsung constitutes the body of the ritual. The steps are as follows:
- The Þingere recites a prayer directed to the deity who is being honoured.
- The Þingere then states the reason for the oblation and what goods will be offered.
- Finally, the Þingere expresses what is desired of the deity in return for the offering.
Gifu (The Gift): Once the hālsung is completed, the Þingere may now give the intended offerings to the deity/deities.
Endespæc (End Speech): After the offering has been given, closing statements can be made, thanking and appreciating the deities invoked. Wada-Þerscold should once again be petitioned by the Þingere to close the gates, thus ending the ritual.
The above format is suitable for longer and more involved rites. For daily observances, the Þingere might opt for a shorter, less formal rite using the prayer format as expressed in Prayer in a Fyrnsidu Context. In these smaller rites, a portion of the family meal might be shared, or incense might be burned, functioning as effective forms of offering without the need of a lengthy rite.
It is encouraged that the practitioner of Fyrnsidu tailor these practices to his/her own particular hearth. These are provided, not simply as an official position of this practice, but as a series of guidelines in order to more fully inform practitioners of the performance of hearth cult and domestic religious practice within a polytheistic system.
Ken Dowden, European Paganism: The Realities of Cult from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, New York: Routledge, 2002.
Claude Lecouteux, The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices, Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 2000.
Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, ed. Williard R. Trask, Orlando: Harcourt, Inc., 1987.
Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. Ian Cunnison, London: Cohen & West, 1966.
Karen Louise Jolly, Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.
John Scheid, “Roman and Animal Sacrifice and the System of Being” in Greek and Roman Animal Sacrifice: Ancient Victims, Modern Observers, eds. Chr. Faraone, F.S. Naiden, Cambridge, 2012.